Background.

  • The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, more commonly referred to now as The Pickwick Papers, was Charles Dickens’s first novel, originally published as a monthly serial between March 1836 and October 1837. The work was started whilst Dickens was living at Furnival’s Inn and completed at Doughty Street.

Context.

This quotation is a description of the industrial landscape of the west Midlands during the industrial revolution. It is a scene observed from a carriage that Samuel Pickwick, Ben Allen and Bob Sawyer are in as they travel from Tewkesbury to Birmingham around the late 1820’s. This description is an example of the social realism that Dickens often inserted into his works, in an otherwise light-hearted chapter.

Nathaniel Winkle, a member of the Pickwick Club and one of Samuel Pickwick’s travel companions, has secretly married Arabella Allen. In Chapter 50 of The Pickwick Papers, Ben Allen becomes partially reconciled to his sister’s marriage and agrees to go with Mr. Pickwick to see Winkle’s father, a wharfinger who lives in Birmingham. They are accompanied by an uninvited Bob Sawyer, who shares around a flask of milk-punch he has brought on the journey, and proceeds to play-around on the journey. By the time they arrive at Mr. Winkle’s house, they are very drunk.

Illustration of Alfred Jingle, drawn by the Victorian illustrator Frederick Barnard (1846 – 1896)

Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution was a period of major industrialisation and innovation as the economy transformed from primarily agricultural to one based on the manufacturing of goods. Individual and localised manual labour (cottage industry) was largely replaced by mechanized mass production in urban concentrations. The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain just after the mid-18th century and quickly spread throughout Europe and North America. Some historians have defined two stages of the industrial revolution, the first lasting until the mid-19th century and a second from this point into the 20th century, fuelled by technological advancements and the emergence of new sources of energy such as electricity, gas, and oil.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Chapter 50 (HOW MR. PICKWICK SPED UPON HIS MISSION, AND HOW HE WAS REINFORCED IN THE OUTSET BY A MOST UNEXPECTED AUXILIARY) of The Pickwick Papers:

.At the Hop Pole at Tewkesbury, they stopped to dine; upon which occasion there was more bottled ale, with some more Madeira, and some port besides; and here the case-bottle was replenished for the fourth time. Under the influence of these combined stimulants, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Ben Allen fell fast asleep for thirty miles, while Bob and Mr. Weller sang duets in the dickey.

It was quite dark when Mr. Pickwick roused himself sufficiently to look out of the window. The straggling cottages by the road-side, the dingy hue of every object visible, the murky atmosphere, the paths of cinders and brick-dust, the deep-red glow of furnace fires in the distance, the volumes of dense smoke issuing heavily forth from high toppling chimneys, blackening and obscuring everything around; the glare of distant lights, the ponderous wagons which toiled along the road, laden with clashing rods of iron, or piled with heavy goods—all betokened their rapid approach to the great working town of Birmingham.

As they rattled through the narrow thoroughfares leading to the heart of the turmoil, the sights and sounds of earnest occupation struck more forcibly on the senses. The streets were thronged with working people. The hum of labour resounded from every house; lights gleamed from the long casement windows in the attic storeys, and the whirl of wheels and noise of machinery shook the trembling walls. The fires, whose lurid, sullen light had been visible for miles, blazed fiercely up, in the great works and factories of the town. The din of hammers, the rushing of steam, and the dead heavy clanking of engines, was the harsh music which arose from every quarter. The postboy was driving briskly through the open streets, and past the handsome and well-lighted shops that intervene between the outskirts of the town and the Old Royal Hotel, before Mr. Pickwick had begun to consider the very difficult and delicate nature of the commission which had carried him thither.

The delicate nature of this commission, and the difficulty of executing it in a satisfactory manner, were by no means lessened by the voluntary companionship of Mr. Bob Sawyer. Truth to tell, Mr. Pickwick felt that his presence on the occasion, however considerate and gratifying, was by no means an honour he would willingly have sought; in fact, he would cheerfully have given a reasonable sum of money to have had Mr. Bob Sawyer removed to any place at not less than fifty miles’ distance, without delay.

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The din of hammers, the rushing of steam, and the dead heavy clanking of engines, was the harsh music which arose from every quarter.
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